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Community responds poorly to proposed zoning change

City Planner Walter Hadley speaks with concerned citizens ahead of Thursday's public forum about a proposed zoning overlay district that would allow property owners near DSU to develop their property into retail spaces. (Brandon L. Summers / The Dickinson Press)

Property owners responded poorly to a proposed zoning change that would allow five blocks immediately south of Dickinson State University to be used for retail space.

A public forum on the proposal, held Thursday at DSU's Beck Auditorium, attracted more than 25 people from the nearby neighborhood.

The City of Dickinson is considering an overlay zoning district that would allow limited retail and office uses across a five block area, from 12th Avenue to Seventh Avenue, between First Street and Second Street.

"Really this is just an opportunity to work with the university to provide some services across the street," Walter Hadley, city planning director, said. "We're just trying to gather some information to find out whether or not this is a good thing to move forward with. If it's not, you can tell us."

The area around the DSU campus is currently zoned as high-density residential, which allows for community facilities such as child care centers.

Property owners would only have the option to redevelop into retail space. It would not be required.

"An overlay district adds additional uses into that area," Steve Josephson, Stark County planner, said.

Hadley emphasized that the idea originated with the city and not from DSU, specific property owners or private developers.

Resident Dick Schleve voiced concerns about increased traffic along Second Avenue, saying the narrow street is already difficult to navigate.

"Right now, you have a hard time with the parking and, in the winter, the traffic sucks," he said. "I have enough trouble with people parking in my driveway, my backyard and plugging up my yard."

Resident Desiree Farrington worried the neighborhood's historic homes would be destroyed in place of new developments. Property values could also be at risk.

"What protects these homes from getting plowed down and turned into parking lots?" she said. "I love downtown, but I don't want to live downtown. I picked my neighborhood because of where it is."

Resident Carl Larson said people who have spent decades investing in and improving their homes there would be badly affected.

"The idea of having a parking lot next to us, sticking in a restaurant, is particularly offensive," he said. "It insults those of us who have lived here a long time, invested in this area and have loyalty to the college, as well."

Property owner Tom McAvoy offered some support for the overlay zoning district, arguing it would be just another option for property owners.

"You can't force people to buy those homes," he said. "I don't see much changing if this goes into effect."

Hadley suggested city staff may not bring a proposal to city commissioners following the poor reception it received at the forum.

"I haven't heard a lot of positive thoughts," he said, "so the likelihood of us taking it to city hall and moving forward with it went down a couple of notches."